A Tour of Spaceflight Centers - From Michoud to Marshall
Lovers of history, spaceflight enthusiasts - I spent the first week of May traveling the southeast United States from Austin, Texas and stopping at Space Centers (among other locations of interest) with my significant other. This is what I experienced.
The first stop outside Texas on our first day of travel - Michoud Assembly Facility. This is not open to visitors and we knew this, but it was an extra 20 minutes out of a many hour trip.
There used to be a Saturn V S-IC, originally meant for Apollo 19, out front but it has been moved…
Just a hop and skip later and we ended up in Pearlington, Mississippi and Stennis Space Center’s visitor complex, the Infinity Science Center. There was a heavy emphasis on nature conservation and the environment as well getting students involved with experiments and hands-on learning. The highlight for me was the display of Wernher von Braun’s desk.
And the new home of that Saturn V S-IC that was at Michoud? Infinity Science Center. Recently moved, there is an ongoing effort to raise funds to restore and preserve it.
We drove most of a day to where I grew up, Saint Petersburg, Florida, where the first scheduled airline flight took place on January 1st, 1914. Tony Jannus flew a Benoist flying boat across the bay to Tampa in a trip that lasted a little over 20 minutes.
Walking around sunny St. Petersburg, we stopped at several museums including an old favorite, the St. Petersburg Museum of History, where they have a functional replica of the Benoist flying boat. An original Benoist pennant from 1914 flew aboard OV-103 Discovery on her final flight, STS-133, is also on display.
Following a stay with friends and family, it was off to Kennedy Space Center. There have been many changes since I had last been here, the new Astronaut Memorial and Hall of Fame being the most notable.
The Orion Capsule that flew EFT-1 was also on display, along with a CST-100 Starliner structural test article and Dragon capsule.
A trip though the rocket garden as always. The day had started as a torrential downpour but was now sunny. Florida, weird as always.
Of course, you can’t walk through the garden without getting a picture with the Saturn IB. She learned that you don’t really have a sense of scale to these without getting right up next to it. It was during this time that I learned my girlfriend has a fondness for the Mercury-Redstone - it’s what she pictures when she hears ‘rocket’. Quintessential!
OV-104 Atlantis is always my favorite stop. This time, I had brought my Atlantis flag, and with a friend who joined us we had a wonderful time with my favorite orbiter.
I have not been to KSC since the addition of the Challenger and Columbia display. It was an incredibly moving experience, seeing these pieces, as well as the displays of the Astronauts personal belongings that you see before entering this room.
We said our goodbyes and began a northerly drive up the Florida east coast, stopping in beautiful Saint Augustine for a night, seeing the Castillo and ancient city before going around the mess that is currently Atlanta, GA, and ending up in Huntsville, Alabama - Rocket City, USA. You can see that Saturn V, the only standing Saturn V, for miles.
It also happened to be Star Wars Day - what a lovely coincidence! It was quite a sight to see people dressed as Jedi, Sith, and Storm Troopers walking around a Space Center.
Of course, we were there for NASA, and I, to see Wernher von Braun’s legacy. I am of the belief that without von Braun’s vision, charisma and genius, we would have fallen so far behind on the dream of spaceflight as a nation, or at the very least, never made it to the moon at all. Look for an upcoming, detailed post on von Braun in the future.
Of course, there were many exhibits and displays of a historical nature, showcasing prototype gloves that were in development for Apollo, models of probes and satellites that have given us a more detailed look at our solar system, and Carl Sagan’s cosmic calendar to really get a sense of how vast the universe is (this is also shown on the newer Cosmos series, hosted by Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson). This History of Space Exploration timeline also gave perspective on the earliest efforts of rocketry by Robert Goddard, to where we are today. Comprehensive to say the least.
On display at the US Space & Rocket Center rocket garden is of course the Saturn V, a Saturn I, Mercury-Redstone, Juno I, among other military missiles.
We toured the Saturn V Center, enjoying the exhibits and displays, including one presented by IBM on the “brain” of the Saturn V, the quarantine trailer the Apollo Astronauts had to spend weeks in because of fears of “space germs”, and the Apollo 16 Capsule.
We concluded the day as it began to rain with a visit to OV-098 Pathfinder. Built in 1977, Pathfinder was a structural test article that weighted the same as the production orbiters would, and had roughly the same dimensions - she was used for fit-checking the various processing facilities that served the Space Shuttles. After her fit-check mission was complete, STA-098 was overhauled and made to look like a real orbiter (or as real as one could surmise), and was sent to Tokyo, Japan for the Great Space Shuttle Exposition in the early 1980s. After being brought back to the United States in the late 1980s, she was set up at the US Space and Rocket Center and given the honorary designation OV-098 and named Pathfinder.
We left as the rain began to fall, but not without stopping by for a visit to Miss Baker. It is customary to leave a banana.
A day later, we ended up in Vicksburg, MS and toured the Civil War battlefield, the USS Cairo gunboat, and stopped by some of the monuments and important sites. It was the last stop on our trip. We pulled into Austin, TX on Friday night, May 5th, exhausted and hungry. The next morning, after getting some breakfast, we visited a site we’ve been meaning to see - the Texas State Cemetery. Gene Cernan, Astronaut, Commander of Apollo 17, lunar land speed record holder, and last man on the moon, was first to be buried on the highest hill in the cemetary, closest to the moon. It was a solemn end to a long journey of history, spaceflight, celebration, tragedy, art, nature, science and exploration.
There are many more photos, and a lot more tales of this trip that aren’t directly related to spaceflight, but I hope my followers enjoy what I’ve shared and have tried to cram into a single posting. This was an incredible experience and it would not be possible without the support and patience of my fiancée, and her camerawork. Most of these photos are hers. Take a look at her blog, especially if you love history, live in Texas, or both!
The second X-37B USAF space plane being transported to pad 37 to be integrated with its Atlas 5 launch vehicle, February 2011. In the background we see LC-39 pad A with the Space shuttle Discovery preparing for its last flight, STS-133. The shuttle mission was, of course, successful, and the X-37 launched on 5th May 2011, returning to earth earlier this week.
Photo by me, on 2/24/2011 from The Space Walk of Fame Park in Titusville, FL. Discovery’s last flight, STS-133. I’m from Florida so I’ve seen a lot of shuttle launches from a distance, but this was my first genuine up-close launch. What an amazing day. I hung out with some of the awesome people who work at the The Space Walk of Fame Museum, and discussed space history, which is my passion. And of course seeing the launch…there were no words to describe it whatsoever; when it arcs above you and you hear the power of the vehicle it is nothing short of awe-inspiring. I am hoping to somehow wrangle a way to the last shuttle launch; I live about 4 hours out and I know it will be madness, but I don’t want to miss this.
I have some Space Shuttle NASA stuff from the 1980s (like pamphlets, etc.), I need to scan/photograph them…I got them when I was a budding little space nerd in the 1980s, and I wrote NASA - they sent TONS of books and brochures, which was amazing.
Okay I’m finally posting the photos from Johnson Space Center from last week. But we got to see historic mission control from the Apollo days and today’s mission control, we also went to the NBL and we went to building 9. In building 9 we not only got an Ariel perspective from the gallery but we got a tour on the floor of all the simulators by astronaut Nicole Stott from STS-133 and we got a Q&A as well! The group photo is with David Cisco, technician for the lunar modules who designed the separation of the LM. He is also an author of the book Full Circle which he signed a copy of. It was an honor to spend the day with he and Nicole their stories are phenomenal!
It’s Friday the Thirteenth and Michael doesn’t think he’s ever been this high in his life. He could see stars on the ceiling. He was chilling with a newly deceased drug dealer when he got a text from up there telling him to finish up with this one and to go collect a fresh one from Sydney, Australia. He replies “ok” and got up.
“Ah fuck, dude, we gotta go.” He stretches his long arms and finishes off the slightly warm beer in his hand.
“Shit man, already? You know, I’m gonna miss this place. It was shit but there were some highlights. Do you think I could visit you sometimes?”
He tries not to role his eyes. He hates when they get sentimental.
“Maybe. I don’t think so.” Michael doesn’t think he heard him. The man stays still on the couch for a few more seconds, looking up at the ceiling, then lets out a long sigh. Finally, he stumbles up.
“Are there hot chicks in hell?”
Michael’s already out the door, coat half on. “The hottest.”